Pascale Fournier, Research Chair in Legal Pluralism and Comparative Law and Full Professor in the University of Ottawa Civil Law Section, was awarded the prestigious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) “Insight Grant” in the amount of $184,757 for the 2017-2022 period.
Insight Grants support research excellence in the social sciences and humanities. Funding is available to both emerging and established scholars for long-term research initiatives (three to five years). Insight Grants aim at promoting interdisciplinary research addressing complex issues pertaining to individuals and societies, which perfectly suits Professor Fournier’s expertise. Professor Fournier’s research project, entitled “At the crossroads of multiculturalism and gender equality: the migration of Lebanese religious family law through public order in Quebec”, draws on her previous ethnographic fieldwork in Lebanon, where she interviewed women from different religious denominations.
In Lebanon, attempts at putting in place a secular family law system have always failed. As a result, family law remains exclusively administered by the 18 officially recognized religious communities, i.e. by religious courts. Civil marriage is thus not a legal option in Lebanon, a trait the latter shares with countries such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Jordan. In a globalized world where population movements are rising, Quebec tribunals are called to reflect on the application and the non-application of such religious law pursuant to Quebec’s private international law. A critical issue must be decided. If a couple, married under religious family law in Lebanon, asks for divorce in Quebec, should religious law be applied, thus respecting the right of minorities to their religious beliefs? Or is doing so furthering the oppression of women, therefore rendering Lebanese religious family law inapplicable in Quebec on the ground that it violates public order? To examine this issue, Professor Fournier will adopt an empirical methodology and, in doing so, she will build on the multidisciplinary expertise of her co-researchers Jabeur Fathally from the Civil Law Section, Harith Al-Dabbagh from Université de Montréal, Denise Helly from the National Institute of Scientific Research (INRS), and Anne Saris from Université du Quebec à Montréal.
The proposed research will proceed in two phases. First, Professor Fournier will conduct with her research team an examination of the religious family law of the seven most important Lebanese religious communities officially recognized by the State, namely the Maronites, the Greek Orthodox, the Melkite Catholics, the Armenian Orthodox, the Sunnites, the Shias, and the Druze. This endeavour will aim to identify the consequences of religious family law on Lebanese women. Seventy interviews will be conducted with Lebanese women from these communities. This fieldwork will purport to contrast “formal” religious family law (law in books) with “living” religious family law (law in action), in order to identify the norms actually used and resorted to by women in the shadow of the law. The research team will then examine the consequences of the migration of religious family law in Quebec through private international law and its impact on the notion of public order in Quebec.
This ambitious project will enhance our understanding and knowledge of comparative family law in many respects. As the Supreme Court of Canada stated, “[o]nce the court takes jurisdiction over a dispute with religious components […] it must try to come to the best understanding possible of the applicable tradition and custom” (Bruker v. Markotvitz, 2007). Formal law is only a partial, incomplete portrait of the legal landscape. Understanding the informal norms that shape the law in action becomes a fundamental duty for researchers, practitioners, and the judiciary. Professor Fournier and her team thus hope to fill a gap in existing socio-legal literature, which will result in practical, as well as theoretical insights on this issue.